Barry Laker

© SFC Programme

© SFC Programme

Pre- Boro

Barry Started his career as a youth player with Wimbledon FC (the original Wimbledon), but was released at the age of 18.  Barry’s honest assessment of the decision by the Dons was “because I was not nearly good enough to be frank.”

Barry then moved to Banstead Athletic.  “I could have signed for some of the top non-league clubs but a man by the name of Bob Mapleson who had coached me at under 14 level was managing Banstead Athletic at the time in what would now be Ryman Division One South. He said I would be better of dropping down to play first team football to toughen me up rather than knocking around in reserve team football higher up – he was right!  I spent 4 years there learning how to handle myself.  He was a great father figure to me during that time.”

Sutton United was the next port of call for Barry.  “I then moved to Sutton United and played under John Rains.  John sadly passed away recently.

The hoards of people and the spontaneous applause that broke out at his funeral say it all about him really – a great man, a great motivator and a great leader.”

Barry’s association with Graham Westley then started as he moved to Farnborough Town.  Barry played over 100 times for the Hampshire outfit between 2000 and 2003, scoring 10 goals from defence in the process.

In February 2003, Barry made the decision to move to North Hertfordshire.

Boro

© SFC Programme

© SFC Programme

Barry joined Boro at a very difficult time in the clubs history, with the team looking likely relegation candidates sitting in 21st spot and 6 points adrift of safety.  The move to Boro was therefore a calculated risk for Barry – He was settled at Farnborough, but understandably he had to reconsider his options when Graham Westley left Farnborough Town and was appointed manager of Stevenage Borough.

When asked whether any other team had expressed interest in his services around this time, Barry commented “No, not as far as I was aware and to be honest I wasn’t initially looking to leave Farnborough at all.  We had just reached the fourth round of the FA Cup and had re-established ourselves as a strong Conference club so as far as I was concerned the club was going places.

I had a year and a half left on my contract; it was January and wasn’t thinking about leaving at all.  In very simple terms Graham told me he was leaving to go to Stevenage, would I go with him?  He made it clear that he didn’t know who was taking over at Farnborough or indeed whether or not wages would continue to be paid.

© Kevin Coleman

© Kevin Coleman

I had given up my job and gone full time into football, I also had two young kids at the time and a new mortgage.  You can probably start to see that I had very little choice other than to leave.  I think the Farnborough fans thought we all ran off with the money from the cup run but I can guarantee them I never saw a penny of it!”

Barry’s debut for Boro was on 8th February 2003, a home game against Morecambe which ended in a 1-1 draw – Justin Richards finding the net that day for Boro.

The transfer of seven players between clubs mid –season is probably unique in the world of football and certainly grabbed the attention of the Stevenage supporters and the wider football community;

“It was a really difficult time for everyone when I first came to Boro. What people need to realise is that top non-league football pays the rent for lots of players but it doesn’t pay a lot else.  When a new manager and seven new players walk into a dressing room, it is inevitable that players are going to be worried for their futures.

© Kevin Coleman

© Kevin Coleman

However looking back it was right for the club at the time because Boro were going down and that would have been disastrous for the football club.  People are inherently adverse to change because it brings with it uncertainty but it was right at that time, just like it was right 3 and a half years later when a host of players including myself left the club because we were not quite good enough to take the club into the league.”

When asked about his shirt number and any superstitions, Barry’s answer demonstrates the close knit nature of the Boro team at that time.  “I think I was number 6 all the time I was there or maybe something else at the very start?  My lack of clarity on the issue probably tells you I was never too worried about numbers or superstitions or anything like that.

In fact, many of the people I played with will probably tell you I wasn’t too worried about my appearance in general – I was voted worst dressed on several occasions!  There was a naïve view amongst the likes of Broughy, Warner, Bulman and my old friend Nursey that style can only be found on the racks of Top Man and JD Sports!  Despite my attempts to educate them they never saw the light!  Wise old saying – It is a football pitch not a catwalk!”

Barry’s decision to leave Boro and retire from football in 2006 disappointed Boro supporters at the time, but he had some very good reasons “I never played another pro or even semi-pro game after I left Boro in 2006.  I made a decision to stop playing completely because of two reasons.

© Kevin Coleman

© Kevin Coleman

Firstly I had only played about 20 games in my final season due to injuries.  One of the worst injuries that was stopping me playing was a back problem that scans had shown was not going to get any better.  I didn’t want to become one of those players who was sat in the treatment room every other day when the rest of the team where out there grafting, that wasn’t my style.  I needed to be in the thick of things and felt frustrated that I wasn’t and couldn’t help the team out as much as I wanted that season.  It was not a situation that was going to improve.

The second reason I stopped playing was due to the ill-health of my son.  He was a year and a half old when I stopped playing and had spent 12 of those 18 months in paediatric intensive care due to lung and neurological issues caused by a premature birth.  Much as I had tried on several occasions to convince myself otherwise, I think it was affecting my performances.  He is 8 now and under the care of Great Ormond Street Hospital who are absolutely wonderful with him.  He still has issues but is in pretty good day to day health now.  Back when I was playing he wasn’t and we had some pretty close shaves.”

Barry is remembered by Boro supporters as a dependable player that had some remarkable performances in Boro colours, a player that was comfortable both in central defence and left back and was certainly an important element in the changes that averted relegation in that  first season.  When asked how he would like to be remembered by the Boro supporters, Barry commented “I think that is up to the fans to decide what they remember of players.  They see so many come and go!  Looking at the wider perspective of football, how many players have worn a Boro shirt in the last 10 years for example?  200?  250? I don’t know the answer but I am sure it is a lot.

© SFC Programme

© SFC Programme

There have been very special players at Stevenage in recent years – most notably George Boyd and I would say Jason Goodliffe in my time there.  They can expect to be held up in high esteem and rightly so.  The rest of us would perhaps like to just be remembered as having played a little part in a big story – that would be enough for me!”

Reflecting on his time at Boro, Barry was asked about if the rise of Boro through the footballing ranks had surprised him.  “In a word – no.  Phil Wallace and Graham Westley are quality individuals through and through and they have great teams around them.

I couldn’t say I follow football closely any more but I do look out for the results of my old teams right from Banstead Athletic, through to Sutton, Farnborough and of course Stevenage.  What the club has achieved is fantastic, really.  I went to watch the first FA Trophy match at Wembley and saw the team play at AFC Wimbledon the year they won the conference.  The club now looks like a football league club on and off the field and it is great to see.”

“I am not really in contact with Graham Westley now but that is not for any sinister reason.  I am just very busy in my world and he is very busy in his I have no doubt.

© SFC Programme

© SFC Programme

He is an outstanding man and I am pleased for Boro that he is back because I am sure he will take the club further.  Is he slightly nuts? Yes.  Does he do things differently?  Yes.  Does he have his critics?  Again yes. But nobody who has the passion to change and improve whatever line of work they are in will be any different.  He does everything with total commitment and when you work for him he shows you great respect if you offer the same.  That is all I really wanted as a player.”

Barry looking back at his football career in general is proud of a little known fact – not the solid dependable defender but a 20 goal a season striker!  “I played one whole season as a centre forward!  I studied for a degree in Languages, Economics and Politics and as a part of that spent a year abroad in Grenoble, a town at the foothills of the French Alps.

I went to the university football trials over there and bizarrely they were a team of defenders so because they didn’t know me they put me up front in the trials. I scored a hat trick and even got one with my right foot!  I think they just assumed from then on that I was a striker – I never told them I wasn’t!

The standard wasn’t great but I got 20 goals that year and got selected for the south east France universities representative team.”

Name Barry Laker
Position Defender
Born 3/11/73
Place of   Birth Sutton
Nick Name Bazza
Boro Career 2002/2003,   2003/2004, 2004/2005, 2005/2006
Boro Shirt   Number 6
Played 115 (3)
Scored 6
Superstitions None
Influence   on Career “The 3 managers in my career – Bob Mapleson (Banstead Athletic), John Rains (Sutton United) and Graham Westley – (Stevenage).  All very different people but all very influential on me”

 Later Career

© Barry Laker

© Barry Laker

After leaving Boro and retiring from football, Barry returned to teaching.  “I went back into teaching at Carshalton Boys School in Sutton straight after I left Boro.  My subject is French; I always had a passion for languages.  I then left there for a promotion in 2011 and am now a deputy head teacher at a wonderful school called All Hallows in Farnham, Surrey.

It is amazing what students can find out about you through the internet these days – they were quick to find out I used to play for Stevenage and were very impressed that I had been at a League One club.  I did confess they were in non-league when I left but was tempted not to!

It is a full on job to say the least but a privilege at the same time to be working with some really great staff and students.

Lots of men who pack up football bemoan the fact they have lost the buzz of playing, well I am lucky because school has replaced that buzz for me.   No two days are the same.”

The Stevenage FC History Website would like to thank Barry for the time and care he took when taking part in this interview and wishes him all the very best in his teaching career.

May 2013